It should be child’s play, part 1

When he appeared in front of the Phase 1 HS2 Select Committee in support of his petition, Alexander Rukin accused “the HS2 people” of being “really, really bad at maths” (see footnote 1). You might think that this was a bit cheeky for a nine-year old, and I’m pretty sure that his father, Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin, put him up to it, but it does appear that Alexander had some justification for the claim on the basis of the costing figures that HS2 Ltd had apparently provided him with (see footnote 2).

I have to say that I have also had cause to doubt the numeracy skills of the HS2 people, or at least their ability to count, when it comes to identifying the total area of ancient woodland that will be lost to HS2 and the number of individual woods that will be affected.

I was first alerted that there was confusion surrounding the numbers by the submission that the Woodland Trust made to the public consultation on the Phase 1 Environmental Statement (ES) that was run at the end of 2013. In that submission (on pages 10 and 11) the Trust disputes the claim made in the ES (see footnote 3) that nineteen ancient woodlands will be directly affected by HS2, putting the figure at twenty-seven. This higher figure, according to the Trust, was obtained by reviewing each of the twenty-six Community Forum Area reports in Volume 2 of the ES. The Trust also cautions that the Ancient Woodland Inventory (AWI) that HS2 Ltd has used to identify ancient woodlands is provisional (and, thus, probably incomplete), and that the Trust considers that a further twenty-two woodlands not on the AWI and, accordingly, not in the HS2 Ltd count either, also qualify as ancient woodland.

All this gave rise to a bit of a tiff. Lead Spokesperson for HS2 Ltd, Ben Ruse, was quoted in an article posted on the BBC News website, making statements firmly refuting the Woodland Trust’s observations. In a typical display of corporate arrogance, he reiterated HS2 Ltd’s belief that nineteen woods was the correct number and claimed that this figure had been “shared and previously agreed” with the Trust – a claim that the Trust denies. In a totally unnecessary slur on a respected organisation, he accused the Trust of including “misleading information” in its submission – whilst, in my experience, government departments frequently resort to using misleading information to defend policy, this is not a trait that I recognise as typical of the output of our environmental charities.

At about the same time that all this was going on, I was preparing an evidence paper for submission to the inquiry HS2 and the environment that was being undertaken by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee. As part of the research for this paper I undertook my own trawl through the twenty-six Community Forum Area reports in the ES, and drew up my own list of ancient woods that are identified in the ES as being directly impacted by HS2. I summarised the results of this work in a table that I annexed to my evidence paper.

My conclusion is that the result of the contest between the Trust and HS2 Ltd was a score draw – at this stage anyway, as there is more to follow (as I will reveal in my next posting). HS2 Ltd do appear to have miscounted, in that the tally of nineteen regards four clearly separate woods in CFA 22 as just one woodland; if these are reckoned as four, rather than one, the total of ancient woodlands identified in the ES as directly affected by HS2 becomes twenty-two. The remaining difference of five between the totals calculated by the two organisations can largely be accounted for by ancient woods that the Woodland Trust claimed would be directly affected by HS2, but where these are not identified as such in the ES. In the latest list published by the Trust three of these woods are now shown as indirectly affected, and one is now not listed at all. The Trust appears to be standing its ground however regarding its claim that one wood not identified in the ES as suffering direct impact, Long Itchington Wood in CFA 16, will be directly affected.

Notwithstanding, the Trust has stuck to its guns that some further woods that HS2 will affect should be classified as ancient woodlands, but were not listed as such on the AWI when it was used by HS2 Ltd to inform the ES. The Trust has submitted evidence to Natural England for a total of twenty-three HS2-affected woodlands to be assessed for inclusion in the AWI, and this has resulted recently in fourteen of these woods, twelve of which would be directly affected by HS2, being accepted onto the Inventory (see footnote 4).

The Trust’s persistence, additional survey work undertaken by HS2 Ltd since the ES was published and the recent release of a Supplementary Environmental Statement have given HS2 Ltd an opportunity to correct the record on HS2 and ancient woodland. In part 2 I will examine whether this has enabled a consensus to be achieved.

(To be concluded …)

Footnotes:

  1. Master Rukin’s petition was heard during the public session held by the HS2 Select Committee on the afternoon of Monday 12thJanuary 2015. It runs from paragraph 33 in the transcript, or may be viewed from 14:20 hrs in the video. The comment that I have quoted is recorded on paragraph 54 of the transcript.
  2. See paragraph 59 to paragraph 64 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 12thJanuary 2015.
  3. In paragraph 8.1.19 of Volume 3 of the London-West Midlands Environmental Statement (Route-wide effects).
  4. See the Woodland Trust blog 14 ancient woods finally recognised by HS2, 7thJuly 2015.

 

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